“The matter of giving and receiving”

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only… 

(Philippians 4.15)

Partnership is as old as apostleship. But for the UK evangelical church in mission it can still feel rather new. At least the kind of partnership and reciprocity that Sherron Kay George is suggesting as the right way forward in mission. And as I said in my last posting, I think she’s really onto something:

1. Congregations engage in local mission with awareness of the global community near and far.

2. Congregations participate in God’s universal mission around the world in partnership with the global church.

3. Congregations receive locally the global community from near and far as God’s missionary agents.

4. Congregations experience the global church’s international messages, values and practices for their nurture and transformation.

I think that UK churches are currently waking up to #2, but in the early stages of it. The biggest challenge will be to realise we are equal partners with others and not the chiefs, as we can still so often feel even if we don’t say it any more. This will be a challenge for us at ABC as we explore new partnerships with churches in India and Haiti in the coming months.

#1… We experience a bit of this in our ABC international group as internationals often play a key part in the life and success of the group. But we could definitely do more here. I think that relationships with the ‘nearby global community’ could unlock a treasure store of missional opportunites.

Then there’s #3! UK Church, what humility this is going to require of us. What wisdom and mature thinking. What flexibility and willingness to make room for the ministry of others – to us and alongside us and even without us.

#4… Revolution! How rich we’ll be when we can embrace the global church’s international messages, values and practices for our nurture and transformation. We may think we already do that, but how much of what we access through the internet is Western rather than truly global?

So how can we access this treasure store of Christ’s global revelation and blessing of/to his church? And where are the churches who are sure to include regular input from global evangelical leaders and preachers? Here at ABC we’re aware of this question. Last year we enjoyed the ministry of UK-based Zambian Minister Joe Kapolyo; and this year we’re looking forward to hosting a Haitian preacher, in just a few weeks time.

This past Sunday evening at Above Bar Church was a special blessing to many, with 9 or 10 internationals coming to the front to sing How great is our God in their mother tongues.

internationals

But there’s a long way to go before the kind of giving and receiving Kay is talking about…

New ways of doing mission ‘from everywhere to everywhere’

Common_clownfish_curves_dnsmpl

symbiosis (ˌsɪmbɪˈəʊsɪs; ˌsɪmbaɪˈəʊsɪs)

n

1. (Biology) a close and usually obligatory association of two organisms of different species that live together, often to their mutual benefit
2. (Sociology) a similar relationship between interdependent persons or groups
[C19: via New Latin from Greek: a living together; see symbiont]
(Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003)

At January’s Global Connections conference (see http://www.globalconnections.org.uk/) the theme of ‘partnership’ was strong. And then at the recent Large Churches Mission Forum at All Souls, we began thinking about what practical steps churches could take to that end. We celebrate the huge growth of the Church in the ‘global South’ – but what does that mean for the way we do mission today and tomorrow?

This all reminded me of an article I’d read last year in Missiology by Sherron Kay George*.  Fourteen years ago, with great insight Sherron Kay George had called for a symbiotic relationship between local and global, and sending and receiving. George claims that “localism or decentralized mission is a strong trend that represents a “conceptual change” as local congregations assume missional responsibility and identity.” She says that “the cutting edge missiological challenge before us is to achieve a harmonious synthesis between local and global mission.” Her proposal is for a 4 point local-global symbiosis – a model for a new way of doing mission. I think it’s real food for thought…

Here are her 4 points:

1. Congregations engage in local mission with awareness of the global community near and far.

2. Congregations participate in God’s universal mission around the world in partnership with the global church.

3. Congregations receive locally the global community from near and far as God’s missionary agents.

4. Congregations experience the global church’s international messages, values and practices for their nurture and transformation.

 

Mmmhh…

How many of these 4 points do you see at work in your church?

Could this help you in shaping your own church’s mission strategy?

Would you add any points to George’s four – or take any away?

Love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

 

*Sherron Kay George, ‘Local-Global Mission: The Cutting Edge’, Missiology 28 No. 2 (April 2000), 187-197.

THE MISSION OF GOD “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year”  

Rogelio Prieto-Duran, one of my colleagues here at Above Bar Church, wrote the following paper. I liked it and would like to share it with you. It’s about Integral Mission and outlines some of breadth and richness of all that we mean when we speak of mission. It concludes with some questions for reflection and a really helpful Bible Study that can be used by individuals or groups…

 

Starting with creation and rebellion, the Bible is the grand narrative of the Mission of God to bring all things under Christ in a new creation.

In this Mission, the Father sends the Son who sends the church in the power of the Spirit (John 20:19-22). Biblical mission is Missio Dei, the mission of (the triune) God.

“It is God’s design to gather all creation under the Lordship of Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), and to bring humanity and all creation into communion. As a reflection of the communion in the Triune God, the Church is God’s instrument in fulfilling this goal. The Church is called to manifest God’s mercy to humanity, and to bring humanity to its purpose – to praise and glorify God together with all the heavenly hosts. The mission of the Church is to serve the purpose of God as a gift given to the world in order that all may believe (cf. Jn 17:21).”

Mission is not the Church’s idea, we did not invent it. Mission is, and always has been, in the very heart of God. His character and activity reflects this:

  • God lovingly creates – he creates and sustains our world, loving all he has made.
  • God saves – from the Garden of Eden onwards, the Bible is a record of God working to restore everything and everyone.
  • God is present and active in our world – whether we can discern his activity, or not (& sometimes we can’t), God is at work.
  • God initiates – time and again, God makes the first move, he reaches out with love to a world in need.
  • God reconciles – redemption, peace and justice are at the core of his purposes.
  • God sends – just as the Father sent the Son, and together they sent the Holy Spirit, so God has sent the Church to be an instrument for mission in our world.

God’s people are the product of the Missio Dei, the mission of God; we are called to participate with God and be partners in his mission.

God’s missionary purposes are cosmic in scope, concerned with the redemption of fallen humanity, the building of the Church, the establishment of shalom, the coming of the kingdom, the restoration of all things under Christ and the renewal of creation.

This biblical cosmic perspective on mission has come to be known as “Integral Mission”, defined as follows in the Evangelical “Micah Declaration”:

“Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world.”  http://www.micahnetwork.org/sites/default/files/doc/library/barriers_to_the_embrace_of_integral_mission.pdf

It has also been summed up as the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ :

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Questions for reflection:

(i) How would you begin to define ‘mission’?

(ii) Most people prefer to emphasise some of the Marks of Mission, more than others – which ones naturally appeal to you? And how can we engage in those which don’t come so naturally to us?

(iii) As we seek to discern what mission means for us, both locally and abroad, how can we ensure that we listen to God and don’t simply adopt an approach which is easy and convenient for ourselves?

 

Notes for a Bible study:

GOD’S MISSION, CHURCH AND KINGDOM

– Find the Great Commission and The Great Commandment in the gospel of Matthew  28:16-20    /    22:34-40

Which one comes first?   Is it still valid?   Which of the two is more foundational for mission?

– According to the Gospels,

What did Jesus preach?  e.g. Mat 4:17

– In the Great Commission in Matthew,

What is to be proclaimed, according to the text before? What is to be done? What is promised?

– How does Jesus preaching in Matt 4:17 relate to the Great Commission in the same gospel?

– In the Great Commission in Mark 16:14-16 (longer ending)

What is to be proclaimed? What is to be done?

– In the Great Commission in Luke 24:44-49

What is to be proclaimed? What is to be done? What is promised?

– In the Great Commission in John 20:19-22

What is promised/given? Who is sent (MISSIO) by whom? Where does MISSIO start?

– Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom, the apostles proclaimed Jesus as the crucified and risen King, e.g. 2 Cor 4:5; look for other related passages,

What are the implications for individuals and for society?

 

 

 

Dealing with Discouragement: Learning 7 Things from Elijah’s Experience (1 Kings 19:1-18)

 

 

elijah

Elijah was on mission with God and he’d seen God do great things. But one day he found himself in a new place…

1. Discouragement, burnout or depression can happen to the best of us and is not something that only affects non-Christians or weak Christians (cf. Apostle Paul’s experience in 2 Cor 1:8-11)!

2. It can happen apparently unexpectedly (see ch.18) – although burnout and depression are most likely the result of/related to underlying issues that have been there for some time.

3. Remember that God is gracious and loving in his approach to you (vv5-8).

4. The short term answer may be as simple as the need for good food and sleep (vv5-6).

5. Be aware that during a difficult time you may not be seeing things clearly/accurately (vv10,14 & 18).

6. An important part of God’s remedy for you is time spent consciously in His presence (vv11-13) – through time alone with Him and/or through the Christian community/corporate worship.

7. Don’t shrug off your experience as unimportant – it could be that God wants to communicate something new or significant to you through this time (vv15-18).

…And don’t be a loner like Elijah! Find someone you can trust and talk to about what you’re going through.

 

 

Lausanne’s Cape Town Commitment – Is there movement in the Movement?

‘Lausanne: Is there movement in the Movement?

In October 2010 the “astonishingly diverse”[i] Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization brought together 4,200 evangelical church and mission leaders from 198 countries. They met in Cape Town, South Africa, whilst hundreds of thousands more participated in meetings both around the world and online. During the Congress, the first draft of the Cape Town Commitment was issued, the fruit of a year’s labour from the Theology Working Group led by Chris Wright.

Roman Catholic Robert Schreiter writes of how a fellow observer at the Congress was heard to ask, ‘Is there movement in the Movement?’[ii] In other words, are there any significant theological shifts in thinking? That question is somewhat flawed, but I wish to address it here in this article. We will see that there are various possible answers to it, and a better question to ask.

 

Historical and Ecumenical Context

It is not possible to understand Lausanne without seeing the Movement as in some important senses a response to the other mission streams. It cannot, for example, have been an accident that Lausanne’s Third Congress took place on the centenary of the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. The 1910 conference had happened at a time when it was becoming clear that Christianity was on the rise and on the way to becoming a truly global phenomenon. Hopes ran high that the Church could be challenged and mobilised to fulfil the task of proclaiming the gospel to all non-Christian peoples. The First World War soon dented this confidence, and in the ensuing years the Church became embroiled in theological disputes. ‘Liberals’ and ‘Conservatives’ began to divide and a vision of ecumenical cooperation in mission began to crumble. The WCC, formed in 1948, saw itself as a natural successor to Edinburgh. Some evangelicals got involved, but many gave it a wide berth. In 1961 the International Missionary Council was brought into the WCC, and the developing, somewhat politicized, understanding of mission gave some evangelicals even greater cause for concern. For evangelicals, the conversion of the individual was felt to be paramount. When that happened, not only could the individual but society also be changed.

In 1961 the WCC formed a new body called the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). The CWME was responsible for guiding the WCC in its mission theology and staged its first conference in Mexico in 1963. This was followed by the Uppsala conference of 1968, the Bangkok conference of 1973, and various others, the last of which took place in Edinburgh, June 2010.

During the 1960s, Evangelicals, largely through the leading of Billy Graham’s organization, began to group. In 1966 two meetings, one in the US and the other in Germany, saw Evangelicals coming together to discuss amongst other things, world evangelisation. These meetings exposed a ‘gap in the market’ for evangelical ecumenism, and in 1974 the first Lausanne was held. This is not the place for an analysis of this or the second Congress, held in 1989 in Manila. Suffice is to say that Lausanne I was notable for its recognition of the need for a holistic understanding of mission. Notable two-thirds world theologians, together with John Stott, were influential in this regard. Lausanne II sought to build on this.

If today there are three main discernible streams of Christian mission thinking, the third and not least, is the Roman Catholic stream. In 1962 the Vatican opened what was its 21st ‘ecumenical’ council, with 2,600 Bishops from every major continent and culture in attendance. Significant documents ensued, Lumen Gentium, Ad Gentes and Nostra Aetate, showing that mission was now firmly on the Catholic agenda. Timothy Yates writes, “Whether in these documents or in the later Evangelii Nuntiandi, the highest priority is given to proclamation, the gospel as a message to be communicated to all, committed to the church, whose prime duty is to proclaim.”[iii] If believing is important to the evangelical stream, and behaving to the ecumenical, it has been suggested that belonging is dominant in the Catholic stream[iv]; that is to say, the importance of belonging to the Catholic Church.

More could be said, for instance, about Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio. But suffice it to say that in all three streams there is widespread agreement that both evangelism and social action are necessary components of mission, and that unity and cooperation is important. It is also interesting to note how through the timing of their 2010 events both Evangelical and Ecumenical streams seem to want to lay claim to Edinburgh 1910 as a significant part of their heritage.

 

Can we measure movement?

How much of what we have seen in recent years may, then, be considered a genuine convergence? Has Lausanne continued to move? If so, in what direction?  And how can we tell? One way would be to attempt an analysis and comparison of typical beliefs. Bosch did this in a paper in 1981 comparing the Melbourne (WCC) and Pataya (Lausanne) conferences, and found big differences[v]. I suggest that if he were to do the same study today, fewer differences would be found.

WCC mission theology or theologies are difficult to pin down, being usually in the form of reports rather than statements, being of necessity a consensus document and therefore somewhat tentative. And theology is dynamic, always changing and developing. So here, very tentatively and recognising the dangers inherent in the use of any model, I want to briefly note six key marks of WCC mission theology[vi], and see how the Cape Town Commitment compares both to those marks and to the two previous Congresses of its own Movement.

The world is the locus of God’s saving activity

This has been a key feature of WCC mission theology since Mexico 1963[vii]. Schreiter speaks of the Cape Town Commitment’s “warm embrace of the world”[viii] and wonders if he sees movement in an evangelical theology of mission. For him, this ‘warm embrace’ seems to be in tension with Reformed theology’s traditional antipathy toward a ‘fallen world’. But if we take the whole Commitment into consideration, Cape Town’s framing of the Confession of Faith in the language of love is not an abandonment of anything at all. It still claims the world is fallen. What has really changed in comparison to past Lausannes is that the language and whole posture is more positive in tone. The creation is fallen, but God still loves it and has plans for it. There is also a clear and unambiguous embrace of earth-keeping and environmental involvement as part of mission that has not been seen before. The word creation can be found a stunning 52 times in the Commitment, compared to just 3 times in the Manifesto and no times at all in the Covenant[ix]. This change reflects global changes in the understanding of climate change and environmental issues that has taken place since the last Congress.

The Kingdom of God is a new social order

WCC theology has seen a very strong focus on change and transformation in the here and now. Cape Town’s positive stance toward creation and the world is not based on an over-realized eschatology. For Cape Town, the motivation for justice, social action and reconciliation is found in the ‘now and not yet’ of participation in the Messiah’s mission that will culminate in the eternal reign of God[x].  One can surely hear echoes in this of Chris Wright’s own mission theology and broad understanding of redemption:  “Is the church… applying the redemptive power of the cross of Christ to all the effects of sin and evil in the surrounding lives, society and environment.”[xi]

Sin is corporate as much as it is individual

The WCC has tended to focus on sin as it is institutionalised in corrupt and unjust systems. Cape Town affirms that individuals, society and creation are broken and suffering because of sin, and as such all are included in mission[xii]. Whilst this is true, the document as a whole does however reflect the traditional evangelical inclination to focus on the sin of the individual.

Salvation involves humanisation and social action is at least as important as evangelism

If humanization is the “restoration of all humanity in all its glory”[xiii], then, “[t]he salvation we proclaim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities”[xiv]. Cape Town basically quotes the Lausanne Covenant at this point.  Crucially it then goes on to quote in full –and thus adopt – a key paragraph of the Micah Declaration on Integral Mission – that evangelism and social action belong together, with evangelism having social consequences and social action evangelistic consequences. This represents on the one hand a clearer expression of the relationship of the two issues than Lausanne has seen before, and a refusal to fall into the either the WCC tendency to prioritise the pursuit of shalom without personal shalom, or the evangelical tendency to relegate the social dimension.

Rene Padilla, however, wants to critique the Movement on this very issue. For him, the Movement is still seriously flawed in this. While Lausanne has as its mission statement the strengthening, inspiring and equipping of the church for world evangelization, it merely aims to exhort with regard to social responsibility. Padilla sees enshrined in this mission statement the perennial secular-sacred dichotomy[xv]. And in view of the Cape Town Commitment on this very point, it only seems a matter of time before Lausanne’s mission statement must change to reflect this more integral understanding of mission.

Reconciliation will ultimately be cosmic

The theme of Koinonia, and God’s purpose of bringing all creation into it, has been central for the WCC, at least since the publication of The Nature and Mission of the Church (2005)[xvi].

For Lausanne, it has been noted that whereas Matthew and Luke seem to have provided a theological basis for the previous two Congresses, John and Paul are distinctly seen in this one[xvii]. This can particularly be seen with reference to the prominence of the theme of reconciliation. In Part 2 of the Commitment it is recognised as one of the six key issues facing the global Church today. Whereas WCC theologies tend towards a strong and welcome leaning toward unity, love, justice and peaceful relations between people, Cape Town continues in the same vein as Lausanne I, in clearly speaking of the need for a double-reconciliation of believers with God and with all creation[xviii]. Reconciliation between God-people and people-people are “inseparable”[xix]. However, whereas the Lausanne Covenant had said unequivocally that, “reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God”[xx], the Cape Town Commitment can be seen to be more comprehensive in its scope by steadfastly holding the two together. It, moreover, envisions cosmic reconciliation in terms of the ultimate “integration of the whole creation in Christ”.[xxi]

Openness to truth in other faiths

It is perhaps in this area that the Lausanne Movement continues to retain its clearest distinctives to the WCC. This is evidenced Cape Town by words such as ‘lost’ and ‘unreached’ – indicating the clear belief that mankind without personal knowledge of Jesus Christ is lost and therefore unreached. Whilst dialogue is mentioned, it with regard to respectful listening rather than a seeking after further truth. Again, whereas the Lausanne Covenant was unequivocal in its denial of any dialogue, “which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies”[xxii], the Cape Town Commitment speaks more gently to the issue. Indeed, the language of love both frames the document and features throughout.

 

So, is there movement in the Movement?

Robert Schreiter has tried to analyse the Lausanne Movement from the perspective of what he calls the chosen genres of the documents produced. For Schreiter, Covenant bespeaks a “chosen people setting out on a journey together with their God”, (cf. Exodus 24) and speaks more to the participants as an aid to self-understanding than it does to outsiders[xxiii]. Manila’s Manifesto is more obviously outward in orientation, belying a sense of consolidation and carrying the idea of proclamation wrapped up in a theological self-understanding taken from Matthew 28;19-20. For Schreiter, Cape Town’s word Commitment speaks of long-term investment, and has “a certain matured quality … that reflects a movement that has become much more self-assured.”[xxiv]

So, in the telling use of genres, yes – there has been movement toward a more self-assured, mature position. And in Corries’ 6 points of WCC mission theology, yes – there has been movement toward a more positive and loving stance, and one that is impressively comprehensive. Again and again it seems to consciously refuse to be one-sided on issues, and seeks to be truly integral. It seems that, Padilla’s comments aside, Cape Town managed to have their cake (the importance of the individual), and eat it (the importance of the world).

But there is one particular issue in which there is no movement from Lausanne’s traditional position. And that is when it comes to the issue of world Evangelization. And in this, Lausanne must be heard to speak with a prophetic voice in the Church and wider world of global mission. It continues to make the case for world evangelization when other streams of mission thinking are often strangely silent on the issue.

“We recognize with grief and shame that there are thousands of people groups around the world for whom such access has not yet been made available through Christian witness. These are peoples who are unreached, in the sense that there are no known believers and no churches among them. Many of these peoples are also unengaged, in the sense that we currently know of no churches or agencies that are even trying to share the gospel with them. Indeed, only a tiny percentage of the Church’s resources (human and material) is being directed to the least-reached peoples… their presence among us in our world 2,000 years after Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations, constitutes not only a rebuke to our disobedience, not only a form of spiritual injustice, but also a silent ‘Macedonian Call’.”[xxv]

Hunt writes of the way in which Cape Town gave leaders and delegates from the two thirds a voice hitherto unseen at previous Congresses[xxvi]. This notwithstanding, Padilla’s critique must surely be heard.  At a time in which more than two-thirds of all Christians live in the global south, the extent to which the North and the West continue to exert power is disproportionate to their numbers.[xxvii] Reflecting on Lausanne III Padilla continues to lament the number-crunching Americans with their charts and plans to reach ‘so called’ unreached people groups. Padilla’s angst is in a very real sense justified – so often the unreached people group idealism is more about management mentality that thinks of mission in very simplistic, and frankly unacceptable, terms. Indeed, another positive sign from Cape Town is that this kind of idealism does not dominate the Commitment at all. However, if the biblical witness is to remain authoritative for the Church’s life and mission, then Cape Town is right to insist that world evangelization must remain a priority. It is in this sense that Lausanne remains unchanged and seems to continue to sound the same note as Edinburgh a century ago.

But there is a further issue to which Lausanne III speaks a word of caution. In 1982 Andrew Walls was one of the first to note the rise of the importance of the church in the global south.[xxviii] These days Europe itself is clearly receiving missionaries from Africa, who in some cases have seen tremendous results[xxix].  Yet, as we celebrate the growth of the Church in the global south and east, and their increasing influence here in the North and West, it must not give cause for complacency. Cape Town deserves to be heard on this point, too.

“We rejoice in the growth and strength of emerging mission movements in the majority world and the ending of the old pattern of ‘from the West to the Rest’. But we do not accept the idea that the baton of mission responsibility has passed from one part of the world Church to another. There is no sense in rejecting the past triumphalism of the West, only to relocate the same ungodly spirit in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. No one ethnic group, nation, or continent can claim the exclusive privilege of being the ones to complete the Great Commission. Only God is sovereign.”[xxx]

The real question, then, is not if there is any movement in the Movement, but about the kind of movement and the kind of non-movement. That is the better question to ask. And the answer is that Cape Town’s movement towards a more positive tone, greater theological comprehensiveness, and continued and compelling insistence on reaching the unreached is a gift to the wider Church. Lausanne has shown that it is alive and moving. It is, however, too soon to tell what kind of impact this latest Congress will have on the wider Church and world. If it is a herculean task to come together to articulate such a broad and expansive understanding of mission, more so, the task of inculcating the vision in the Church. It remains, also, to be seen how Lausanne will resolve some of its inner tensions and grow to more truly reflect the movement in world Christianity.


[i] Jonathan Bonk, ‘Has the Lausanne Movement moved?’ International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.57

[ii] Quoted in Robert J. Schreiter,  ‘From the Lausanne Covenant to the Cape Town Commitment: A Theological Assessment’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.88

[iii] T. Yates, Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p.190

[iv] Paper given by John Corrie at Trinity College, Bristol, January 2010. Cf. http://www.trinity-bris.ac.uk/assets/files/articles/corrie_models_of_mission_in_20C.pdf [accessed 27 April 2011)

[v] Bosch quoted in Corrie Paper in Ibid.

[vi] Ibid. WCC’s themes are in italics

[vii] Cf. D. Bosch, Transforming Mission (New York: Orbis Books, 1991),p.383

[viii] R.J. Schreiter, ‘From the Lausanne Covenant to the Cape Town Commitment: A Theological Assessment’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.90

[ix] Cape Town Commitment, Part 1:7A and Part 2:5

[x] Ibid., Part 1:10

[xi] C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), p.322

[xii] Cape Town Commitment, Part 1:7A

[xiii] J. Kapolyo, ‘Human/Humanity’, in Corrie, J., Ed.,  Dictionary of Mission Theology (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007), pp.171-173

[xiv] Cape Town Commitment, Part 1:10B

[xv] C.R. Padilla, ‘The Future of the Lausanne Movement’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), pp.86-87

[xvi] World Council of Churches, The Nature and Mission of the Church, Faith and Order Paper No. 198 (Geneva: WCC, 2005); Cf. Ephesians 1:10

[xvii] R. J. Schreiter, ‘From the Lausanne Covenant to the Cape Town Commitment: A Theological Assessment’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.89

[xviii] Lausanne Covenant, Part 1:8B

[xix] Cape Town Commitment, Part 2:B1

[xx] Lausanne Covenant, Part 5

[xxi] Cape Town Commitment Part 2:B1

[xxii] Lausanne Covenant, Part 3

[xxiii] R. J. Schreiter, ‘From the Lausanne Covenant to the Cape Town Commitment: A Theological Assessment’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.88

[xxiv] Ibid. p.89

[xxv] Cape Town Commitment, Part 2:D1

[xxvi] R. Hunt, ‘The History of the Lausanne Movement, 1974-2010’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.84

[xxvii]C.R. Padilla, ‘The Future of the Lausanne Movement’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 2011), p.87

[xxviii] Andrew Walls, ‘The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture’, Faith and Thought 108 (Nos. 1 and 2, 1982), pp.39-52

[xxix] Cf. Asamoah-Gyadu’s article about Pastor Sunday Adelaja in the Ukraine. J.K., Asamoah-Gyadu, ‘African Initiated Christianity in Eastern Europe: Church of the “Embassy of God” in Ukraine’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 30, No.2 (April 2006), pp.73-75

[xxx] Cape Town Commitment, Part 2:F2

 

A missionary ecclesiology

Recent research shows that unless the Church understands God’s big picture she’ll get bogged down by non-essentials and continue to see mission as an extra-curricular activity.1  Here are some recent thoughts (adapted from a chapter of a paper on local church – global mission) on what mission is and how churches can try to begin living in God’s story. I’d love to hear your reflections and experiences too. Let’s start with a definition of mission…

Chris Wright offers what I think is a brilliant definition of the complex reality of mission: Mission is, “our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”2 Wright’s definition is helpful because it holds together in tension both mission as missio dei, and the part that people have to play in it; mission as something that takes place in history and hints at its eschatological fulfilment; and both personal and cosmic dimensions of redemption. For Wright the word mission refers to God’s “long term purpose or goal that is to be achieved through proximate objectives and planned actions.”3

A Missional Hermeneutic

Wright says that a missional hermeneutic “proceeds from the assumption that the whole Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.”4 The Bible is both the product of God’s mission in that it bears witness to God’s movement towards his creation and it is the story of that movement. Much of it is, moreover, material that emerged out of the mission of God’s people in the world. Reading the Bible as the story of God’s mission one can say that, “[I]t is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.”5  Wright suggests that the reason that the early Christians were so mission-minded without having a completed New Testament nor having read the ‘Great Commission’ was that they “knew the story they were in.”6

It is important that a missional hermeneutic, or any kind of framework for interpreting Scripture, must do justice to the text and not overly distort it. There is a sense, of course, that any framework imposed on the text could be said to distort the text. But for Wright the main question is, “Does it in fact do justice to the overall thrust of the biblical canon? Does it illuminate and clarify? Does it offer a way of articulating the coherence of the Bible’s overarching message?”7 Wright thinks that, whilst he is merely offering the beginnings of a missional hermeneutic, it does. To read the Bible with this biblical-theological, salvation historical approach is for him, “to read with the grain” of Scripture.8 It is to read the Bible as the risen Jesus read it and explained it to the disciples – “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms…. and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24.44b, 47).

In defence of this hermeneutical approach, biblical interpretation is increasingly been seen once again as the legitimate task of the Church and of those with specifically Christian presuppositions and theological aims.9 Christian biblical hermeneutics was arguably born in its attempt to make sense of Christ in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures and in attempting to make sense of those Scriptures in the light of Christ. Theology pre-dates and gave birth to the Scriptures. The Canon itself was shaped by theological concerns. Theological interpretation, then, is inherent to the task of making sense of the Bible.

Wright’s work arguably demonstrates the viability of his thesis that a missional hermeneutic not only does justice to the text, but illuminates it in ways that seem faithful to original intention and Christian tradition. More than that, it discloses a helpful way of interpreting life at the local level of the Christian community. A missional hermeneutic is not simply a way of understanding the Bible as the story of God’s mission in creation, fall, redemption and new creation. It is more than the telling of the story of the Bible as the story of a missionary God and partnership with him in his work – of creation care; the missionary identity of Israel; the missionary identity of Christ and the consequent missionary identity of the Church; not to mention the climax of that story – the new creation, which for Tom Wright is crucial to the missionary story of the Bible. He, too, sees the Bible as having “an overall story.”10 For him, mission is living in the light of the great climax of the story and acting as “sign-posts of hope.”11 A missional hermeneutic is a tool for interpreting the meaning of life. We are invited into the Bible story – God’s story.  The first step in truly intentional, holistic and global mission vision formation is for a congregation to realise that they are participants in God’s story. Eugene Peterson would put it like this:

‘The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, “Live into this – this is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being.” …We are taken seriously just as we are and given place in his story – for it is, after all, God’s story. None of us is the leading character in the story of our lives. God is the larger context and plot in which all our stories find themselves.’ 12

A renewed ecclesiology

A missional hermeneutic is therefore essential for constructing a renewed ecclesiology. Vatican II was right to assert that the Church is “missionary by her very nature.” 13 The WCC was correct to assert that “[i]t is God’s design to gather all creation under the Lordship of Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), and to bring humanity and all creation into communion. As a reflection of the communion in the Triune God, the Church is God’s instrument in fulfilling this goal.”14 However, it is reasonable to suggest that evangelicalism needs a renewed ecclesiology that begins to see the Church as missionary in its very nature. This would be an ecclesiology that does not just perceive Church as something one does or a place one goes,  but a thing that one is; an ecclesiology that does not simply think in terms of joining Church as a rational choice, but sees the very purpose of the Christian faith and Church as missional (Ephesians 2.15/3:10); and an ecclesiology that is not individualistic in terms of simply seeing individuals sent out into mission, but that sees the Church as the fruit and the agent – as well as [part of] the goal of God’s mission.

If the Lausanne Movement can be taken to be illustrative of global evangelicalism’s missiology and ecclesiology, then things have come a long way in the last few years. In 2003 Hunsberger noted severe weaknesses in Lausanne’s missional ecclesiology, as evinced in the 1999 Iguacu Affirmation.15 He pointed out the inherently individualistic tendencies of the aforementioned document with its apparent assumptions that the church is more of a sending agency than a missional community.16 Yet, by 2010, Lausanne’s ‘Cape Town Commitment’ evinces an arguably more robust missional ecclesiology.17

Local church respondents in a research project I carried out struggled to hold together the idea of mission with the other purposes and tasks of the church. This is a problem that arises when mission is seen merely as evangelism or is something that takes place outside the essential practices of church. As a congregation seeks to make sense of their identity, a missional hermeneutic can do much to ground life in a narrative that offers a huge sense of meaning. If this hermeneutic is adopted, local and global mission praxis begins to make sense. Living in this story also liberates Christians oppressed both by a totalizing secularisation narrative that naively proclaims the looming death of Christianity and by a postmodern narrative that inconsistently proclaims the impossibility of grand narratives. A missional hermeneutic subverts these narratives and locates people in God’s reality. This reality is rooted in local communities and both humanizes and gives a sense of purpose and place. The local finds its proper relation to the global. But for this, Christians need to ‘know the story they are in.’

New praxis

Bevans and Schroeder are amongst those who are beginning to imagine what it would look like when a church takes these things to heart.18 The structures of the church would reflect the missionary nature and purpose, and ministers would equip members for their ministry in the world. Baptism would be synonymous with ordination to ministry. The sacraments would be celebrated as, “a preparation for, and as an act of mission.”19 And anxiety would be alleviated as it was realised that although Christians are God’s co-workers (1 Corinthians 3.9) the mission is God’s.

Endnotes

1 Qualitative research I carried out in one UK local church, 2012-2013

2 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), p.23.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., p.51, Italics his.

5  Ibid., p.50.

6 Wright, p.36. Italics his.

7 Wright, p. Ibid., p.646

8 Ibid., p.64

9 See Anthony C. Thiselton, ‘Hermeneutics’, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (ed.) Kevin J. Van Hoozer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 2005), pp.283-287.

10 Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), p.294.

11 Ibid., p.307.

12 Eugene Peterson, ‘Living into God’s Story’, Biblical Theology, http://www.biblicaltheology.ca/blue_files/Living%20into%20God’s%20Story.pdf [accessed 18 October 2012] (para. 13 of 13).

13 Ad Gentes, 2. Vatican Council II – ‘Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church’, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html [accessed 1 November 2012] (para.4).

14 World Council of Churches, The Nature and Mission of the Church (Faith and Order Paper No. 198) (Geneva: WCC, 2005), p.10.

15 George Hunsberger, ‘Evangelical Conversion Toward a Missional Ecclesiology’, Evangelical Ecclesiology – Reality or Illusion?, (ed.) J.G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), pp.105-132 (p.111). Porter also raises questions about Lausanne’s pre-Cape Town ecclesiology – Ray Porter, ‘Global mission and local church’, Evangel 25 No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. i-iv.

16 Hunsberger, pp.105-132 (p.111).

17 This is not surprising as Chris Wright was one of main architects of the document. The majority of the 135 uses of the word ‘church’ appear relatively free of individualistic assumptions.

18 Bevans and Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue (New York: Maryknoll, Orbis, 2011) pp.16-17

19 Bevans. and Schroeder, pp.16-17.